Bartending Class – Week 2, Day 2

Today was judgment today. Well, perhaps it wasn’t that serious, but our last day of class would consist of a written exam and a live drink making test to determine whether or not we passed the course. I was feeling pretty confident after having reviewed my flash cards extensively and memorizing the drink recipes. I also reviewed our workbook thoroughly to try and pick up as much service and trade knowledge as possible outside of class. The class itself was very good at preparing me and the class for the exam and it was amazing how quickly we as students picked up bartending knowledge throughout this entire experience.
Anthony, another instructor for the school would be the proctor for the exam. We opened up with another round of drink drill to get us loosened up, helping each other along with drink recipes and making last minute service corrections. The pace for the drinks had increased as well as the combinations for and variations of the orders being shouted out. This was starting to feel real. Music was blasting, bottles were pouring and service started to feel like a reflex. I wasn’t struggling for recipes or with marrying the right glass to the drink being ordered and served.
When the drill was over we were given the written portion of our exam, consisting of three pages of detailed questions covering everything we had learned. I was surprised at how familiar all of the information was. Some of the reason for this familiarity would become apparent as I’ll explain shortly. The exam was a breeze and I finished quickly. The live drink exam was next.
When the next portion was set to begin I looked around and realized the class was short many people. Two girls who were there for the first half of the day didn’t come back for the live test. Others were complete no shows for the day. Where were they? Why take the course and not finish it? The reason for this would also become apparent by the end of the day.
With eight students left we were broken up into two groups of four for the evaluation. I was part of the second group and was taken to the back room. Anthony jokingly put on some entertainment for us on the television in the room, and as he left chuckling Coyote Ugly came on during the part where Violet (Piper Perabo) applies for the job. Anyone who has seen this movie knows that all hell breaks looks at this point. What was the message here? This was all too funny. Music started blasting in the other room as the first four students started their evaluation. Before we knew it, our names were called into the room as the other students went into the back room to be subjected to the movie torture we had just experienced. We got behind our respective stations, listened to the instructions Anthony gave us and went to work. He called out drinks and we made them, each person getting assigned different drinks for the test. Looking around the bar was like observing the line at a hectic kitchen. Orders were given out and promptly “fired” and served according to recipe with the appropriate garnish. The test was over in no time at all. The stations were cleaned up and we gathered in the main room. We all awaited the results to see how we did.
We again reviewed some bartending basics as well as tips for applying for a job. We then went over the details of putting together a resume and how to make it sound professional and not like a third grader’s. This was all very elementary stuff, but as I would soon learn, I was the oldest person in the class, or at least of the graduates. There was definitely an experience and maturity gap here. Many were not even 21 yet, and this was one of the first job talks they had experienced. Some didn’t even have resumes, and bartending would be their first or second job. My travel and food experiences made me better equipped for the class as I had learned a lot of the wine information, and I won’t lie, my drink experience in and since college also made me familiar with many brands, types of alcohols and drink combinations. While I never revealed my age to my classmates, it was an interesting revelation.
I passed the exam and was awarded my school certificate. I was so psyched and still am. The culinary school decision is still up in the air and will take considerable more thought, but I feel now I have a better idea of what it’s like to work in the industry under pressure producing consistent results according to a recipe.  The bar has similarities to the kitchen which I continually observed. The bar also to some extent has been de-mystified and I know I will never look at it the same.
Now that I have some bartending training and some recipes under my belt, I don’t want to lose what I have learned. I plan to explore some options which include planning and working some private parties and catering events to gain experience in the operation and execution of them while honing my drink-mixing skills. This is in line with my current thoughts for work after attending culinary school which would add food preparation for these events to my knowledge base and skill set.

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Bartending Class – Week 2, Day 1

Another day down, and another day closer to finishing my bartending class.  Today we were really moving. Jeff was our instructor again along with Chris, who I gather is a potential new instructor and was just observing as she did not interact with the class.

We started with a drink drill again, going over drinks that we had accumulated in our “arsenal” since the class began. I was a bit apprehensive as class started, wondering if I would remember what we had gone over last weekend. I didn’t have much time to study this week and was really surprised with how much stuck with me. The hands on learning in a realistic looking bar setting really helped put everything together. The music was pumping in through the sound system again and everyone got right back into the groove.

After the drill we talked about good bartending techniques and the amazing cash rewards some bartender’s have earned through the trade. A former instructor once made $1,700 in tips during one night of service! Almost $100 dollars of this amazing total came as a result of making one drink. A customer asked the bartender to make his favorite drink, one that many bartenders get wrong. The customer put a hundred dollar bill down and said that if the drink, a Planters Punch, was made correctly the bartender could keep the change. Playing the part of a dumb and clueless bartender in a joking way, the bartender “guessed” the ingredients and made a perfect Planters Punch.  He got to keep the change!

Two key lesson’s learned about bartending where these:

  1. The job of a bartender is to generate repeat business through his/her craft.
  2. When asked during an interview why you want to be a bartender, a good answer is “Because the harder I work, the more money I make”. You are not there for the people or to have fun. If you make money the rest takes care of itself.

The framing of the bartender’s trade through the lens of a business was interesting again and good to re-enforce. After all, despite your reasons for choosing this job, hiring managers are concerned about the bottom line, just like any other business.

After break we went over a new glass type which we would be using, the cocktail or martini glass.  We also went over cutting techniques for limes and lemons creating slice garnishes and twists respectively. Now we were ready to round out our knowledge with Martinis and Manhattans, often measures of bartending skill.

Martinis and Manhattans were surprsingly easy to make given the ingredients, but complex given the show and knowledge that is expected from the bartender. We breezed through variations and worked on some quick shooters before class ended.

As we cleaned up our stations we were reminded that we have a final that we must pass in order to pass the class and get our certificate. Visions of a culinary practicum came to mind. Jeff even made the comparison of cooking and bartending and discussed the necessity of tasting drinks to become familiar with their ingredients and interactions together in the real world.

The exam tomorrow consists of a written portion as well as a demo session where we will be asked to prepare drinks from memory, using the key steps for customer service and preparation. We’ll have to use the correct ingredients, combination method, glass types and garnishes. I’m looking forward to the exam and hope that I have studied enough. I know I will feel proud after passing validating my newly acquired skillset. Stay tuned for the results.

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Bartending Class – Week 1, Day 2

Today’s class was taught by Mark, a self-described sarcastic and mild mannered former bartender with 25 years experience and a strong love for teaching. It started with going through our workbook and the review questions for the sections we had covered during our first session. After a quick review we moved on quickly and opened up with a “bar drill”, quickly creating several drinks that were taught yesterday; everyone was eager to get behind the bar to practice their skills. We were split up again with four behind the bar and four at the counter as customers. Drinks were shouted out, liquor (dyed water) was poured and things were really moving. We alternated with being in front or behind the bar as we practiced new drinks and our pouring technique.
We also focused on quality wine service, margaritas and tips for determining ingredients in a drink based on its name or key ingredients. For example, all cream drinks get Kahlua, all Russian drinks have vodka, any drink with south in its name gets Southern Comfort. The rules of it all are starting to fall into place.
Ever present in the back of my mind throughout the day and now is the comparison of making drinks and working in a kitchen producing food. We learned clever bartending tricks about how to utilize multiple ingredients at one time to make several drinks, how to mix drinks in a particular order based on their ingredients so as not to have to wash out our shaker as many times and how to properly garnish drinks based on clearly defined rules. Our goal was to increase speed and accuracy while minimizing waste all the while being consistent with our products. Time is money in the business and greater output yields more money in your pocket as well as the bars.
I have also observed that idealized bar without surly demanding customers and real money on the line is a great place to hone one’s skills much like the sterile kitchen of a culinary school.  Add in a few drunks, cash, credit cards and the checking of ids and this becomes a whole other ball game. The customer always makes a difference.
Getting comfortable behind a bar is like a kitchen. You learn your surroundings, where everything is kept and over time learn how to be more efficient. This class is way more fun than I was expecting and is really opening my eyes into the subtleties of the business, product, operations and great customer service. I bought the kit they sell, much against my desires knowing that they mark up its contents considerably so I can practice and improve my skills at home with pourers, shakers, mixing spoon and strainer.  Why didn’t I sign up for this course before?

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Bartending Class – Week 1, Day 1

On a whim and a aside from my culinary education I have enrolled in the Drinkmaster Bartending School in Boston and attended my first class today. Sure, we’ve all seen the movie Cocktail with Tom Cruise and thought to ourselves, “Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to be a bartender?”.  Reality probably set in and for many and various reasons we assumed that bartending wasn’t something within our grasps.

While taking such a class may seem unrelated to pursuits in my culinary education, it actually has some pretty clear benefits to me and my desire to learn to cook. I signed up for the class a few months ago while reading through a book, Running a Restaurant for Dummies that I had purchased to learn a bit about the restaurant industry and its inner workings. I signed up with the thought of breaking into the industry and learning a bit about the front of the house operations through bartending or by acquiring the skills necessary to work small private parties or catering events. Bartending is much like cooking in that it involves taking orders, clearly defined recipes with occasional improvisation, fast, efficient production and interaction with a team. The money happens to be pretty decent as well which is an added bonus.

I arrived at the appointed hour and took the elevator to the 5th floor. The doors opened to a small hallway with slightly dim lighting. I walked through the door and was immediately welcomed by Jeff, our instructor for the day. I was given materials, a name tag, and signed in before taking a seat at a full-sized replica bar with bartending stations. The place looked really cool and felt like a real bar.

Once everyone was settled, the owner started talking to us about the school and its aim to teach people the core mechanics of the industry and how to be a great bartender. He introduced us to Jeff and left us in his hands for the day. After introducing ourselves, we were giving a brief overview of the basic bar setup and went right to work. This place apparently was going to be really hands-on, something I immediately became excited about. Music was pumped up to enhance the experience and provide some real life distraction. We were all jammin’ behind the bar with classic rock, raggae and current and familiar bar and club anthems.

All students in the class shared stations, switching back and forth, going over the basics of order taking, customer interaction, pouring, mixing and shaking and presentation. The pace picked up as our comfort level increased with drinks being called out in succession. I imagine this is what being on the line in a kitchen is like, firing plates and plating dishes for servers with consistent and attractive presentation. We were mindful of our workspace, the bar mise en place, putting back our bottles where they came from and keeping our space clean. I was really having a good time now. Everyone made mistakes, but as we kept moving it became easier to get over them. The operational aspects  and good business practices of a bar started to take form, as we honed our skills moving to what hopefully will some day be instinct.

The question on everyone’s mind at the beginning of the class of course was, “How do you remember all of the different drink recipes?”. It was great to know that you don’t need to know how to make every drink there is in the world, but rather the mechanics and the tools to be able to figure them out, along with some clever customer interaction techniques to elicit recipes for your first time. We learned bases and different combinations and substitutions. I started to make parallels with cooking and the differences say between a classic braise, fricassee or blanquette.

I left class feeling more confident than I ever imagined I would be after my first day. The mystery that shrouds bartending has started to break down into simple individual components. Much like what Chef Dowling said at the info session I attended at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, I am sure that when I am done with the class next Sunday I will never look at bartending or the drinks that I order while out the same again just like she said about food after taking the certificate or professional programs.

I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s class and the challenges and fun that I will experience. In just five hours I learned so much and know another five hours will increase my skills dramatically again.

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